Pontiff Deplores More Church Bombings in Iraq

Series Continues Today; 4 Dead So Far

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BAGHDAD, Iraq, JULY 13, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI is decrying a new wave of attacks against churches in Iraq, urging authorities to spare no efforts in promoting peaceful coexistence.
An explosion this morning near Our Lady of Fatima Church in eastern Baghdad marked the seventh bombing of Chaldean and Orthodox Churches since Saturday. The attacks have left at least four dead and 35 injured.

The previous bombings took place at two churches in the western part of the city Saturday night, three churches Sunday afternoon, and one Sunday evening.

In a telegram signed by Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Pope assured that he is praying «for a conversion of heart for the perpetrators of violence,» and he urged authorities «to do everything possible to promote a just and peaceful coexistence for all of the sectors of the Iraqi population.»

The papal message was sent to Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, archbishop of Baghdad. The Holy Father, who arrived today to the northern Alps for his summer vacation, assured «his prayer and spiritual closeness to the Catholic and Orthodox communities of the Iraqi capital.»

Aid to the Church in Need reported that St. Mary’s Chaldean Church was damaged by a car bomb Sunday evening that exploded as parishioners were leaving Mass.

Other attacks targeted St. George’s Church and St. Joseph’s Church. Most of the church buildings sustained damage.

The aid agency reported that the continued violence against Christians has already forced 200,000 to flee to neighboring countries, while some 50,000 have taken refuge in northern Iraq.

Thus, the Christian community in the region has dropped from an estimated 1 million in 2003 to less than 400,000 currently.

Iraqi religious leaders expressed concern that this is the start of a new phase of violence, after having enjoyed a recent climate of relative calm.

«We are upset about what is happening in Iraq,» Cardinal Delly lamented on Iraqi television, «because today, places that in the past and during the war served as places of refuge for Christians and Muslims, are now object of attacks.»

The cardinal decried aggression against Christian churches and mosques, and urged a «spirit of tolerance.»

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